Monday, October 26, 2015

Overnight Shift Introspection

Welcome to month 4!
At the end of my first month of residency, I wrote this entry about the daily thoughts of a new intern. #5 of the points I made in that post talked about how medicine is invading my subconscious, and how I kept dreaming about the hospital every night. I hoped that would be a temporary thing. In month #2, I went to the proving ground that is the intensive care unit, where I continued to have nightmares for the first week...but by week 2 or so, they had stopped. I thought I was free, that I had passed that stage. But then I went back to the regular floor medicine for month 3 and the nightmares started up again. I shouldn't say nightmares...not all of them were scary. But I hear nurses' voices and bed alarms in my sleep, and sometimes I dream about patients having certain conditions or illnesses and then when I wake up in the morning, I find myself trying to form a treatment plan in the shower to address a problem that doesn't actually exist. 

I know I'm not alone in this. I've talked to multiple other interns that are in similar situations. One has suffered weekly (if not nightly) insomnia from the pressures of medicine compounding her own (self-admitted) neurotic personality. Another intern finds himself facing a bitter slow-burning rage every time he feels unprepared for something or something goes wrong with a patient (even if it's not his fault). And I myself had to learn how to become less tightly wound - from overreacting to every little thing (and swearing like a sailor while I did it) to responding more often with, "Okay, here's what we can do." I'm still learning that - balancing knee-jerk reactions with careful thought and consideration of the patient's overall condition.

Every year there are new articles around this time about intern depression. Suicide rates are high among new physicians, frustrations with work schedules and work-hour restrictions are consistently present, and burnout seems to come frequently no matter what countermeasures are taken. It's only month 4, so we aren't quite there yet, but it's something we've been seriously warned about. Especially the fact that doctors make the worst patients, and we're terrible about speaking up about or going to see someone for our mental health symptoms. And recently I noticed that some of my fellow residents were having a gripe session (just venting because we needed to) and I noticed some of the medical students looking on, and I could read their expressions. "This sounds terrible. Are we going into the right field?" And I told them this:

Sure, there are times when we get frustrated or look longingly at people with normal jobs. There are days when I would love to wake up and suddenly realize I would rather work a 9-5 job, in some office doing equally important but less demanding work, where I get to clock out and go to a happy hour and have weekends off. But I can't do that.
I freaking love this job. I may not always want to get out of bed, but by the time I get to work, I'm excited to see what my patients are doing and if they are okay, and if not, what I can do for them...even as it frustrates me when they don't get better. I am fascinated, as my fellow interns and residents all are, by the disease processes we see in our patients, and how complicated it sometimes is to find the right treatment regimen. And I know that part is not just a phase, because I see third-years who are getting ready to graduate and have seen quite a bit during their residencies, but when I tell them about an interesting case I saw, their ears perk up and they're just as excited and interested as I am.

I mean, don't get me wrong. We all treasure our days off. We love the days when we get to go out and enjoy the sunlight (or see the sun at all), and go drinking with our friends or apple-picking with our spouses/significant others. I spent a recent Saturday doing utterly mundane things with Fiancee Reptar and it was awesome. And we love the nights where we DON'T dream about the hospital (seriously, one night I had a dream where I saw the face of one of the nurses, and then it melted into the face of one of the patients, and then it did the Raiders of the Lost Ark and turned into the skeleton ghost face thing...that was a wake-up-in-a-cold-sweat night).

Medicine is currently in a time of incredible discovery, even as it faces an unprecedented level of skepticism. We are now being made much more aware of the costliness of our myriad tests and medicines, and forced to really think about if or why we need any particular blood work or imaging. The days of unequivocal respect and obedience to doctors are long over, but now we work hard to form bonds and team up with our patients for their health. And while some patients are better team players than others, it's this way of thinking that helps us to find a balance between patient care and physician-heal-thyself care. I've written before (as have many other more experienced and more entertaining physician writers) about how the acknowledgement over the past decade or two that doctors make mistakes has led to two things: 1) Patient skepticism, and the appropriate but sometimes frustrating questioning of medical decisions, and 2) The urge on all levels of healthcare for doctors to look at ourselves and acknowledge our own health. To do things like take at least one day off a week to catch up on life (laundry day!) amid all the studying; or go play sports, or go out with friends, or write a blog post trying to sort out your subconscious in the hopes that you finally stop having hospital dreams.

So why do we love this field, even as it takes away our peace of mind, our sleep, our eating time, our time in relationships...why? I don't have a good answer. All I know is...I wouldn't have it any other way.

But seriously, no more patients turning into skull ghosts. That was freaky.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ten Random Thoughts Every New Medical Intern Has

As I near the end of my first month of residency, as a newly-minted intern (and bask in the glory of my first real paychecks after four years of living on loans), I once again get the itch to read, write, and reflect. So rather than opinions, I give you ten random thoughts.

1. I feel like I'm hitting my 10,000 steps daily, and then some. Now that the iPhone measures your steps (with at least some degree of accuracy) I occasionally look at that app. The amount of steps I take daily has actually diminished significantly since summer time...though I certainly wouldn't know it. I know I spend a lot of time in front of a computer typing up progress notes and making phone calls, but with the amount of time I spend walking the floors on rounds and checking on patients...I certainly feel a lot less lazy than I did while on vacation.

2. The value of a good poop. I know Scrubs sang about it. Older residents told me about it. I thought I was prepared for it. But I can't believe how obsessed I've become with making sure other people poop. Relief of constipation is a beautiful thing and sometimes has a dramatic impact on a patient's progress. I love it when people poop.

3. I am constantly fighting dehydration. I've never been one to carry a water bottle to work or in general. I just go get some water when I feel thirsty. But now I have these 13-to-16-hour days (at most...legally speaking) where all I have to drink is a thermos of coffee in the morning with my Clif Bar...and then sometimes I forget to eat lunch entirely. Don't tell my senior residents, they'll scold me (as will my mother if/when she reads this). So I find myself with dry mouth, dry skin, overusing Chapstick, and feeling generally sluggish. You know, the things that I see in my patients who are mildly dehydrated. So I'm working on that.

4. Medicine is invading my subconscious.  My first weekend, I sat bolt up right at 3:00 AM Saturday morning and immediately texted my co-intern (who was working the night shift) that I had forgotten to order labs on a patient. He told me to go back to sleep. And then in my third week I had an all-too-vivid dream about a patient who pooped too much (see #2) and then I came into the hospital the following day and discovered one of my patients had, in a fit of delirium, had stool incontinence and was trying to rub it on things until the nurses calmed him down. Dreams come true in the worst way sometimes (that guy is better now, by the way).

5. Weekends at a hospital sometimes demand the most patience for patient care. Doctors and nurses (and several other staffers) work any of 7 days a week, but when the weekend rolls around, everything slows down. Non-emergent procedures, diagnostic tests, anything that can wait until Monday, does so. I'm not arguing the point, necessarily, because frankly, that's the point of weekends. But it gets frustrating in the moment. Sometimes I wish weekends didn't matter unless they happened to be your scheduled day off (a notion that will vanish the first time I get a weekend to myself again).

6. I am exhausted. I've never been good at sticking to a hard bedtime. I know when-abouts I should sleep so I can get 5-6 hours before I have to be up, and I try to get to bed within an hour of that. Aside from that, between running around seeing patients and the fact that I am suddenly at the mercy of the office phone and the med team pager, and that I am constantly racking my brain for how best to treat a patient - at the end of the day it's all I can do not to fall into bed right away. And even there I can't escape the hospital (see #5).

7. Everything else has fallen by the wayside. I told my mother that I was gonna take charge of planning my wedding. I had seen other interns do it (mostly female, which is neither here nor there), and Reptar is studying for her upcoming Step 2 exam, so she'll be busy. So I would do it. I get one day off every week! Of course I can get a bunch of wedding stuff done on that one day. Except I forgot that I have no idea what goes into planning a wedding, and even though I eventually did get an idea, I still don't know how to execute it, how to pick vendors, what information I need. So by week 3 I had surrendered and delegated a lot of work to my mother (read: gladly accepted when she offered to help).

8. Well, everything WOULD fall by the wayside, incredibly understanding family and friends keep me based in reality. Reptar is, as always, a blessing. The other day I managed to be late to AN HOUR. Whoops. Thankfully she wasn't alone at the restaurant for that occasion, but I'm sure that will happen, too. But she understands, and doesn't hold it against me. My parents and sisters, too - they're really coming to my rescue with wedding planning, groceries, general fun stuff to take my mind off the workload...gotta love them for that. And my non-medical friends remind me that there's a world outside the hospital and fight to help me join them in it. For which I can't thank them enough, because I couldn't do it on my own. My best friends, especially - Ketan keeps me grounded and lets me know that even though I have this new job and crazy hours, I can't stop making an effort, while Eric reminds me of the sillier things in life while maintaining a higher level of discussion...this while they study and do extensive research and tell me how awesome I am. In addition...

9. Residency (at least mine) is like a family. We look out for each other. When someone is staying too long past their shift, we offer to help. When lunchtime hits, the senior resident always checks and makes sure the interns and students are eating, and vice versa. When an attending yells at an intern, the residents will later talk the intern through it. It's truly a camaraderie. And it makes me excited to come to work. Which leads into #10.

10. I am so pumped for this job. The hours are long, the days wear on us all, I don't see Fiancée Reptar much. But I am so excited to go to work every day, take care of patients, and do my best not to screw up. Ask me in 6 months, maybe I won't feel the same way. But for now, I've waited for this job for 21 years. So's worth it.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A (Sort of) Farewell to Kings/Channeling Neil Peart, Part II

In Part I of this post, I talked about the first set of the June 10th Rush concert I recently attended (really just because I was "In the Mood"), and let the songs guide my reminiscence of my ten years as a Rush fan ("Making Memories" if you will). Here we have part II. 

1. Tom Sawyer: I don't even need to say anything about this song. Rush's most popular song. This is no deep cut, but it still gives me chills every time it starts. My drum teacher Jim had introduced me first to "Closer to the Heart" (mentioned later), which I liked. He tried to have me play "Tom Sawyer" but I was intimidated by the amount of notes on the page, and held off for a while. When I asked him to bring it back out again, I was instantly hooked. This was drumming on a level I'd never experienced before (at that age, having listened only to pop, country, and some classic rock for most of my life). I proceeded to pursue Rush's discography (using mostly FYE stores because I had no idea where to shop for music when I was 15) and devoured every album. On June 10th, I didn't quite catch the opening moment because we were running to our new seats, but it was still a command performance. And the South Park "Li'l Rush" parody gets funnier every time.

2. The Camera Eye: A deep cut that resurfaced during 2011's Time Machine Tour, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Moving Pictures. It is one of the longer songs at almost 11 minutes, describing the hustle and bustle of big cities, switching back and forth between sharply focused verses and a deeply satisfying mid-tempo rock riff. It was also here (during the show) that I could not help but admire Neil Peart and Rush's control - if I was playing these songs, I'd be excitedly speeding the tempos up every song, or at least trying desperately not to. But these guys make it look easy (even if they are playing to a click track).

3. The Spirit of Radio: This can be best summed up by Mike's reaction as he sat next to me. The song's opening riff poured out of Alex Lifeson's amps and all I heard from my left was, "Aw, yes!" It's the great listener's anthem whose message about music and artists vs. advertisers and corporate executives still rings true today. I love "begin[ning] my day with a friendly voice, a companion unobtrusive." And when the lights go from rainbows over the crowd to small intimate Jamaica colored spots for the reggae-ish part? That's just gravy.

4. Jacob's Ladder: Another deep cut from 1980 - an epic grooving jam featuring a brief but epic lyric that, if you close your eyes, really makes you feel like the heavens' fury is coming down in a storm (which is appropriate for this week's Buffalo weather).

5. Cygnus X-1, Book II: Hemispheres, Part 1: Prelude: This track (leading into its own part I) is the only one I couldn't identify in the first five seconds...but as soon as I heard the signature riff I knew it. This is another one where reading the backdrop of the song is quite helpful. For one, in the studio track, even I have to admit that Geddy's high vocals are sometimes hard to follow. For another, it's also a pretty cool tale - again heavy on the sci-fi, though this one features a spacefaring protagonist.
6. Cygnus X-1, Book I: Parts 1 and 3 (with drum solo): The gift that keeps on giving.

7. Closer to the Heart: "This is a great song from 'A Farewell to Kings''s got a pretty little acoustic intro." As soon as Geddy said it, the entire audience quaked with anticipation and then broke into raucous cheers. This was the first Rush song I learned to play on the drums, and, as my friend Mick stated leading up to the concert, it proved that radio-friendly songs could have loftier lyrics and more complex themes. I defy anyone not to sing along with Geddy when he tells us we can be the captain and he will draw the chart. I DEFY YOU. 

8. Xanadu: No, this is not that Olivia Newton-John movie. But it is based on the same Coleridge poem. Man, people got a lot of mileage out of his work - that movie, Citizen Kane, and a Rush epic that, in 1978, had the works - gong hits, chimes, woodblock and cowbell hits, as well as thundering rolling-down-the-stairs drum fills. They brought a little bit of that magic back for this, and Peart could be seen rising from his throne to hammer the chime notes of the song's introduction - which was pretty cool.

9. 2112: Parts I, II, IV, VII: A retrospective wouldn't be complete without the 20-minute, 37-second song that put Rush on the map. Admittedly, they did a shortened version for this concert. But as the opening ARP Odyssey Synthesizer tones hit my ears and the overture burst into existence, I was immediately transported to yet another dystopian tale, a concept revived in 2012's Clockwork Angels. As Geddy alternately channels the protagonist (with his discovery of the guitar and music) and the Temple Priests (who shut the former down), it's easy to see why this song brought them back from the brink of musical failure and thrust them into a spotlight that carries on to this day.

1. Lakeside Park: This encore went all the way back to 1974-5. The first two songs haven't been played by them live in decades, since the vocals go pretty high and Geddy says his head threatens to explode. But a true retrospective necessitated bringing them back. So they tuned down a key or two, but these songs haven't lost a step. I love "Lakeside Park" in particular because it epitomizes Geddy and Alex's ability to write music that completely captures the mood of Neil's lyrics. It even takes me back to playing in parks when I was a boy, although "Beaty Park" doesn't have quite the same magic to it. Maybe Mulberry Park.

2. Anthem: The song that introduced 1975 to the new lineup of Rush, and introduced me to Ayn Rand's philosophies. Sort of. I didn't quite look that deeply into it at the time, I was just enraptured by the sheer prog mastery of the song. I put on this one and the guitar riff started and immediately went into creative drum fills that blasted out of my headphones and I knew I had found my new drum hero.

3. What You're Doing: A great song off their 1974 debut album (before Neil joined the band) - just classic bluesy rebellious rock that needs no explanation. Just turn up your volume and let it blast. Oh, and definitely check out this video someone made of the Peanuts gang singing it:  

4. Working Man (W/Garden Road outro): Ending on a classic, this song is the one track from the 1970s that has always been a staple. I'd like to think even the guys in Rush never get tired of this one, that they still have fun with the guitar solo section. Everyone can relate to this song in some way. Even if you don't understand any other Rush get this one. And the fact that they teased Garden Road (a fun track whose lyrics are almost unintelligible, only released on two live albums recorded back in 1974, shortly after Neil joined the band) at the end is icing on the retrospective cake.

So that was long and self-indulgent. But I hope I made it easy to see how awesome this show was, and how much of a presence this band has been in my life for the past ten years. And how, even if you're not a Rush fan, or if you stopped listening when they introduced synths in the '80s, they still deserve a great deal of merit. Here's hoping for a lot more music, and even a few more shows from the best damn trio period. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A (Sort Of) Farewell to Kings, or Channeling Neil Peart (Part I)

So about two weeks ago I saw Rush for the fifth time. It might be the last time, unfortunately, solely because they're getting to the point where they're less inclined to be away from their families for long tours that last months at a time. Which is totally understandable, since they're celebrating 40 years of doing that. Forty years, twenty studio albums (plus ten live albums), and solo projects from all three band members (from the experimental fun of guitarist Alex Lifeson's Victor, to the straightforward rock of bass player Geddy Lee's My Favorite Headache, to the drum solo instructionals and thought-provoking books written by drummer Neil Peart), movie cameos, and, of course, concerts, have provided me with hours upon hours of enjoyment in the mere nine years since I became a Rush fan. I mean, it's not the end - they still might do smaller tours or at least infrequent performances (as Mr. Lifeson said in a recent interview), and they probably have more music in them. But in honor of what could be their last big tour, and following in my drumming hero's footsteps with his own blog posts, I thought I'd explore my own retrospective of Rush's albums, using, as a guide, the setlist to what was arguably THE best show I've seen by them.

Before I start, a huge shout out to the First Niagara Center. When a small structural problem threatened the safety of my fellow concertgoers and myself in section 302, they took decisive action to move us to new seats to keep enjoying the show. Strong work.

1. The Anarchist: For my most recent birthday, Fiancée Reptar got me a copy of the Clockwork Angels novel, written by long-time sci-fi writer Kevin J. Anderson and based on the 2012 concept album's lyrics by Neil Peart. The book is solid, a good page-turner that does a great job of fleshing out the characters introduced in Clockwork Angels' twelve songs. This song's tom beat and driving guitar riff made for a great start to the show as they burst into their set.

2. The Wreckers: One of my favorites from the latest album, and one that really comes to life in the book. This song channels the uneasy and lawless concord that the protagonist finds at this point in his journey, which is soon shattered. Also a fantastic use of strings to simulate the idea of a boat on choppy waters, which persists through the whole song.

3. Headlong Flight (w/Drumbastica): The opening bass riff of this song leads into a song that is just as reckless as its title and story indicate, even while it reminisces about the crazy journey the protagonist has taken. The chorus is one of the hardest-rocking in Rush's catalog, and a listener is treated to intriguing images even as he/she can't help but head-bang along. Neil's new pattern of throwing in multiple smaller drum solos instead of one large one continues to delight as he drums his way into our hearts.

4. Far Cry: I became a Rush fan in late 2005, shortly after they completed their R30 tour, and I listened to their entire discography obsessively. I remember regretting that I had just missed that tour, and hoping that I would someday get to see them. My wish came true in 2007 when they announced their new album. The 12-second teaser for this song was unbelievable. And then later that year, when I saw Rush for the first time, the second set exploded (both literally and figuratively) as they ripped through this knock-you-through-the-wall number. Five shows later, this song still has that effect on me. As my friend Stephen said after that first show, "Far Cry was SICK!"

5. The Main Monkey Business: A complex instrumental that channels both a jungle feel as well as the metaphorical fun of its title. Neil's explanation in a 2007 issue of Modern Drummer of how the parts for this song came about is recommended reading for any drummer. There's a part at around the three-minute mark when Neil's hands are stretched from one end of his kit to another and his only thought is, "I don't know why I did that to myself."

6. How It Is: In my opinion, this is far from the best song on 2002's Vapor Trails, but still a great deep cut for this retrospective set, with potent lyrics about the importance of expecting the worst while hoping for the best. It's actually a pretty good lyric for today's world.

7. Animate: Rush's 1993 album explored post-grunge alt-rock. My friend Chris tried to get me to name my least favorite Rush album, and cited Counterparts as a potential example - that was a mistake. I love this album. It hit on complex themes (standard fare for any Rush album), as well as commonplace themes in a complex way (including AIDS, bravado (but not the song "Bravado"), and even love). It has some of Rush's coolest songs, including one of my top 5 - "Cold Fire."

8. Roll the Bones: The song inspired by an attitude of taking chances took its own chance in 1991 when Peart wrote an interlude inspired by "LL Cool J and Public Enemy" in a rap that beautifully captures Rush's flippant personalities amidst otherwise serious music. This was further highlighted by a great backdrop video at this concert featuring a host of famous Rush fans mouthing along to the rap, including Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, Peter Dinklage, the Trailer Park Boys, and more.

9. Between the Wheels: This song (and all the following songs from this concert) came out before I was born, but it is arguably my favorite song by the power trio. I love the metaphors describing the downsides to apathy (which, as a concept, is a pet peeve of mine), superimposed on a reggae/ska-infused riff. The song, last track on 1984's Grace Under Pressure, crashes in with power organ spikes and then drags you between the proverbial musical wheels and it's awesome.

10. Subdivisions: Rush's most famous song, post-1981. "Signals" is a fantastic album, even though the members of Rush are hesitant about it because the guitar-vs.-synth balance was a struggle (as it was for so many fans who were listening to Rush in the early 1980s). This album features my favorite Rush song that I thought would never be played live - "Losing It", a beautiful tribute to Hemingway that heavily features Ben Mink and a monstrous electric violin solo. As it turns out, a week after this concert I watched, Ben Mink CAME TO A RUSH CONCERT AND PLAYED IT WITH THEM ONSTAGE AT THE AIR CANADA CENTRE. I SHOULD HAVE GONE TO THAT ONE. DAMN.

At the end of intermission, we got moved to a box (for the aforementioned safety reasons), which was AWESOME. Much closer, parallel to the stage, such a cool way to experience the show. No wonder people pay the big bucks for those.

I wrote about the whole concert, but it's way too long of an entry for one post. So here lies the division - End of Part I.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Ten Opinions in a Row (#shoppingwithreptar Edition)

So I'm shopping with Reptar (correction: she's shopping. I'm just wandering nearby, offering suggestions that she dismisses and then sitting quietly while she tries on things and criticizes her body unfairly). So I figured I'd do something to distract myself. Therefore, I give you another ten opinions.

1. Go see Mad Max: Fury Road. It is brilliantly done. One of the best action movies I've seen in years. Keeps you on the edge of your seat, then lets you catch your breath for an instant until it plunges you back in. Great character development, especially in the span of a suspenseful movie. Just all-around so good.

2. Relating to that: I didn't realize there were websites and forums where "men's rights activists" whine and moan about how movies like Mad Max: Fury Road are ruining cinema because they gave Charlize Theron a lead role in a movie titled "Mad Max", where Max wasn't the good-at-everything superhero of movies gone by. You should watch the movie because it's good - but it's an added perk to stick it to those whiny guys.

3. People complaining that the new Human Torch is black need to pipe down. I have one friend who expresses that he likes the movies to be translated as literally as possible from the comics. Which I can understand, even if I don't agree. But the people who think that it's a bad thing because it's a black and white brother-sister duo (HOW COULD THAT POSSIBLY HAPPEN? ME SO CONFUSED), or, worse, that a black member would "disrupt the team dynamic" (which wouldn't happen because the Fantastic Four aren't as racist as that commenter) - go sit in the corner.

4. Okay, non-film thought: the fact that Ireland just voted to legalize gay marriage (and not just that - it was by POPULAR vote, not some elected officials deciding) is huge, and awesome. I think this is best summed up by this quote, from German official Jens Spahn: "One should think, what the Catholic Irish can do, we [Germans] can too," he was quoted by Welt Online as saying, adding: "The population is often more ahead in these matters than we think." 

5. Related to that: I hate it when people comment on posts about these important topics with "That's great, but what about this other important issue that I care more about?" One thing at a time, people. The world does not work on one problem at a time. Your issue's time will come (unless you're a men's rights activist. That time is not coming).

6. At this point I am firmly convinced that when my fiancée says she does not look good in a dress, 90% of the time she is full of crap. The other 10% is an objective issue with the dress itself.

7. I never fully understood the value of detangler combs and hair brushes until I grew my beard out. It was only like 3 or 4 inches, but running a comb through that and smoothing out the tangles was so satisfying. And made for a much softer beard.

8. If stores are going to dress up mannequins, they should have a card catalog or a "find-this-dress-in-store" feature that you can scan. That way you're not randomly wandering trying to find where all the Ralph Lauren dresses are.

9. I am sometimes torn between wanting to listen to a podcast and wanting to roll my windows down. I mean, I know I shouldn't care, but I feel dumb opening my window and blasting out a discussion of some random topic, rather than a song.

10. I am super excited to see my extended family this weekend. Med school and all of its scheduling conflicts, as well as sheer distance, prevent me from hanging out with them as often as I'd like. So the biggest perk of having an engagement party this weekend is that I get to see all of them. And I can't wait. That's not much of an opinion, I just wanted to give them a shout-out.

I have finished this list. And we haven't left Macy's yet. Still have at least one or two stores to check out. I need food.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Dos and Don'ts for a Drummer at Someone Else's Gig

So we've officially graduated! I can change the subtitle of this blog to "A Physician/Musician's Thoughts on Blah Blah Blah" - finally! It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm the way spring was meant to be (I love Buffalo but this extended winter stuff is for the birds). The ceremony was a huge thrill, and the speakers were excellent (shout out to my great friend and bandmate Mike Wach for making everyone cry). And to top it all off, I got to play a gig in front of a large portion of my classmates and friends (which, for all intents and purposes, will be the last time...but we'll see). The Lodge was packed, and everyone was dancing and singing along, which is my favorite part of playing in a live setting. It was a perfect day and night.

Okay, maybe not perfect (as you can guess from the title of this post), but I can gloss over any minor things that happened that day. But one thing - really just one person - stuck in my craw that night, and embodied the inspiration for a blog post that I have thought about writing before, but never actually did. So here it goes. The following list was inspired by that guy. Don't be that guy.

DO (can be applied more broadly):
1. Sing/dance/cheer. I love the energy I get from audience members, it definitely makes the whole experience better. Every performer has been at empty-house gigs where you still had to try and put on a show and it just felt like work.

2. Approach me between sets. I love talking to people at shows (I realize this is not the case with every musician, so be wary of that). Whether it's talking shop about drums, requests for songs, stories about how you saw some great band live and how amazing (or awful) they were, I'm usually pretty happy to hear it. The exceptions to this are if the musician really needs to pee, or (broader generalization here) if they are single (not me) and have their eye on a specific person in the crowd - that's no offense to anyone else approaching them, it's just the call of biology.

3. Buy me drinks. I mean, not too many, because I can't play drunk, but if you want to do a shot or get my next gin & tonic for me because you like the way I play, that's awesome. Again, musician-dependent.

4. Admire from far away. Hey, thanks! I mean, you can tell me between sets or from the crowd if you'd like (see #1 and #2).

5. Critique from far away. Hey, I can't stop you. Although maybe tell me to my face less often, and in a friendly manner so we can converse about it.

DON'T (a little more specific to that guy/drummers):
1. Approach me between songs. Little snippets of conversation are fine, or if you're buying me a drink or requesting a song, but please don't try to engage me on the merits of my cymbal placement or tell me about your drumming abilities while I'm waiting to hear what the next song is.

2. Walk around to stand behind me and stare critically. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and it's distracting because I know you're there but I can't see you. I looked back to acknowledge and got nothing. It's just weird.

3. Ask to play my drumset apropos of nothing. Every drummer is guilty of this desire at some point or another. We'll be at some show and the drummer will have a set that looks beautiful. Or it could be ugly but we still suddenly get the urge to play. But most drummers are also aware that if the tables were turned, we would not want someone else playing our drums. Every drummer is protective of their stuff, though we don't want to be pricks. But if we have never talked, never established any rapport, you're just some stranger from the crowd...and if you come up (between songs - see #2), clearly tipsy and starting to slur your words? I don't really want you playing my drumset (especially when I am still playing the gig)! Even if you do offer me $10.

4. Touch my drums unannounced while I'm playing. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES is this okay. I've been trying to be objective in this post, but this was seriously unacceptable. If I am playing a song and we have not previously agreed that you are going to come up and join me, then I question what is prompting you to pick up the stick that I broke earlier and add your own percussion accompaniment. When I am hitting the chorus of "I Believe In A Thing Called Love" and providing an optimal level of ride cymbal wash underneath the guitar riff, I don't need you adding your drunkenly off-beat hi-hat splashes.


It should be known that after the show was over, the guy begged me enough that I took pity and let him play my drums (again, didn't want to be a prick). The way he talked, I was expecting to have my mind blown. As it turned out, he was drunk, clumsy, not nearly as groovy as he wanted to be (though the drunk girls dancing were okay with it), and he couldn't hold a stick to save his life. I gotta be more assertive with this kind of situation. Not to mention he spilled water all over my equipment bag. The nerve of some people. Haha. #thankgoditwasnotalcohol

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why My Patients Are Like Herbie Hancock Albums

So I've been reading a lot of autobiographies lately. Well, reading and listening to them - audiobooks are one of my new favorite things. I especially love listening to autobiographies because they're usually read by the author him-/herself. Hearing them tell their own stories in their own words can be such a cool experience. The latest stories I've been told are those of the great jazz piano player and electronics explorer Herbie Hancock. Now entering his 7th decade of making music, Hancock's book could be used as a primer on music history, and he discusses his own unique experience with each new wave of musical change.
Herbie Hancock was a proliferative musician with over 40 albums of predominantly instrumental jazz. With his last three albums he decided to explore vocal jazz. I had originally glossed over these albums, not being big on vocal jazz when they came out. But hearing Herbie Hancock talking about the thoughts behind these albums, the stories behind their recording, and the incredible musicians and ideas that made them possible...I went back and listened to them. And I couldn't believe I had not skipped out on them before. There's so much great stuff on these records!

As I listened to Herbie reflect on his career, I couldn't help but be led to reflect on my own education and fledgling career. And how patients' stories, in their own words, are what will help me see their problems in new light.

My medical school class is officially post-Match Day (actually, it's taken me so long to write this post that we are closer to graduation day - 7 days!). We have found out what we are doing for the next several years of our lives. Whether we are going on to medical residency, or research positions, or other great ways to apply our medical knowledge, it's been a wild ride. Four or more years of slogging our way through lectures (both exciting and boring), histology slides, research labs and statistics, 8-hour-long exams, hospital wards, and surgical operating rooms. My first real post (after the introductory one) on this blog was inspired by that first week of medical school. Looking back on those posts, it's funny to note the evolution in my thinking - or at least, the inner conflict that happens now.

Medicine is constantly changing. I am only just beginning my career, but even in the last four years of my training, my class and I have seen the rise of widespread electronic medical records (EMR) and the sweeping changes of the Affordable Care Act (which, whether you like it or not, has made some significant and at times impressive changes). We've seen doctors finally get to the point where it has become necessary to push back against frivolous malpractice suits. And we've also finally seen those same doctors reach the point where they have to realize that they are human, and they make mistakes, an important realization in order to try and prevent the legitimate malpractice lawsuits.
And, arguably most poignantly, we've seen a new plateau in the evolution of the doctor-patient relationship. I see old doctors every day who came into medicine as the most respected men around, when what they said was the final word. They made the decisions for patients, and no one questioned them.

Now, these same doctors find themselves and their suggestions (no longer orders) to patients questioned, and sometimes ignored. They work with a constant underlying fear of being sued if the smallest thing goes wrong. And they are at the mercy of insurance companies and reimbursements. In order to make the money that used to come much easier to them, they have to see way more patients in a day. Where previously they never worried about billing and getting paid, now it's a constant subtext to every medical action and order. They have to document everything, and they have to do it in just the right way or risk losing money on the encounter. They have to deal with drug-seeking patients who will berate them while putting them at risk for malpractice suits. They have to try to reason with (for example) chronic diabetics who refuse to do anything to control their blood sugar and then cannot believe they have to get their foot amputated. And they have to try and help and educate patients who, through no fault of their own, have been suckered by sensationalists like Vani Hari (the Food Babe) and Dr. Oz who convince them to disregard science and medicine for unproven and, more often than not, false remedies.

All of this is part of the ongoing grudge match between the family doctors of old, who essentially became part of the family as confidante and friend, and the modern doctor (whether generalist or specialist) who has to perfect the art of the 15-minute visit in order to see as many patients as possible in order to get paid something that justifies the long hours he/she is putting in, while spending even more time inputting progress notes and orders and wrestling with EMR. It's a tough battle, and no one is happy about it. The patients don't feel that we spend enough time with them (which we probably don't), and the doctors start to see patients as their computerized charts, as their most acute problem rather than the real, whole person. 
In light of all of that, I am never surprised when a doctor gets jaded and starts to hate his/her job. I am saddened, but never surprised.

And that is where patient's stories come in. Dr. Arnold P. Gold (co-founder of the Gold Humanism Honor Society) and Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen (author of Kitchen Table Wisdom) are two of the world's biggest leaders in a renewed surge in restoring the humanistic element to medicine. As one of my favorite Buffalo doctors (and teachers) puts it, it's about "separating the iPatient from the real patient." It's the next round in the aforementioned grudge match. Just the other day I heard from an attending who had come from talking to a particularly nervous patient, and said, "It's not enough to hear what the patient's saying. You have to make the patient feel like - or realize that - they're being listened to." It's about forming partnerships with our patients. Not just dictating their care, but helping them take charge of their care, while guiding them in its management. We have always been taught to get the history from the patient about what their medical problems are, but there is a deeper meaning to be found in hearing what makes them tick, and what drives them, and what their goals are. And that deeper meaning helps us to form better partnerships with our patients.

Of course there are patients who are just non-compliant. There are patients who just don't care about their health. There are patients who just want the high of hospital-grade narcotics. And there are patients who take WebMD to heart and make their health worse just by worrying about it too much.

But I will always remember a patient suffering from new-onset congestive heart failure who was starting to get on the team's nerves because she was threatening to leave against medical advice before her symptoms were resolved and kept complaining that we were keeping her there (even as she could barely sleep without being in a seated position and felt short of breath with minor exertion). We were all getting annoyed that she could not see her own continuing symptoms, until our attending came to us one afternoon and explained that he had just come from talking to her. She was trying to leave because she was in a struggle with her medical insurance and wasn't sure if she could afford the hospital stay. She misunderstood her condition, thinking she could just go home to recover in a few days and it would be done. She did not understand why we were still diuresing her and waiting on an echocardiogram to assess her heart function. As he sat down and discussed the merits of the treatment, and the dangers of exacerbations that could bring her back to the hospital, and the social worker began to work with her insurance problem, she suddenly became that much more patient with us. And, more importantly, we suddenly became more patient with her. Now that we understood what she needed from us, and why she felt the way she did, we suddenly could not believe we had been so quick to write her off before. It was a learning experience for us, especially for me as a student. And it's one that I remember every time a patient disagrees with a treatment plan or wants to go home before we feel he/she is ready - it's not always that they are trying to be difficult. They often have their reasons, and I need to understand and appreciate that. I watch my residents now and I realize that many of them have learned this lesson already, and I again understand that this is part of modern medicine.

Another example that I have mentioned on this blog before - you'll notice that when I talked about the Food Babe and Dr. Oz, I didn't include Jenny McCarthy. As much as I hate the message that Jenny McCarthy puts out in the world regarding vaccines, I know her main drive for that is her children. She is, at the heart of it, a mom trying to find something to hold onto in the face of her child's struggle, and from what I have seen, there is very little that is more difficult than watching your child struggle. It does not make the message right (though there are those that disagree with me there), but it makes me less spiteful towards her and towards anyone who is anti-vaccination. Just like hearing Herbie Hancock's stories helped me go back and understand and appreciate his vocal jazz albums more, so it goes with "difficult" patients and their stories.

To go back to the book, while I could music-nerd out over Hancock's name-dropping and pioneering, what struck me most about the book is how well the title describes his personality: Possibilities. Hancock's attitude is about embracing new things, integrating new technology and musical ideas while trying to preserve history and learn from his successes as well as his failures, and those of others in the industry. That attitude is exactly what new doctors take into their medical careers. And now, as I stand with my classmates on the cusp of graduation, I can't wait to see the possibilities that unfold.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Island's Got You Covered...(Or Insert Other Bad Cover Pun)

I don't remember if I came up with this on my own or if I heard it somewhere, but I firmly believe that "a good cover is one that makes you appreciate the original in a different way." My good friend Harsha and I have talked at length about the value of a good cover. They come in many forms - some stay true to the original, and some alter it almost to the point where it's a different song entirely. Of course the best way to judge a cover is "does it sound good?" But even that is difficult. We've all seen those YouTube comments that describe a cover as "better than the original!" Or on the flip side, "utter garbage." Because everyone wants something different when they hear a cover, depending on who is doing it and in what context.
This is probably going to end up a multi-part list, so I'll just start with five. I won't be talking about covers that many people know better than the original - so I won't mention "All Along The Watchtower" or "Higher Ground", and I'm gonna try to avoid the ones that are often mentioned in "Best Covers" lists (including one of my favorites, Johnny Cash's emotional man-at-the-end-of-his-life rendition of NIN's "Hurt"). I'm gonna try to talk about the ones that I find interesting, whether positively or negatively. I am also only going to talk about covers that are recorded on albums or as singles/B-sides, rather than some that bands exclusively perform live. Otherwise I could be here all day.
So here goes:

1. Katy Perry: "Use Your Love." We'll start with one that Harsha showed me. He and I have a love for The Outfield's "Your Love" that borders on ridiculous. The mighty one-hit wonder is an oft-quoted source of joy in our lives, and the 2013 SNL sketch revolving around it is amazing. Now, Katy Perry is an admitted guilty pleasure of mine, and I like a lot of her songs. Still, this cover took me a few listens before it grew on me. She alters the lyrics to be from a girl's perspective, matching The Outfield's moral ambiguity with her own (regarding cheating), and ups the tempo into a dance pop number (which, when Perry first heard the original in a club, was the vibe she got from the song, inspiring her to cover it). The result may not be quite as satisfying as the original, but it's still a lot of fun, and despite the hate that Katy Perry gets from most classic rock fans, is definitely worth a listen. Use Your Love Video

2. Toto, "Burn Down The Mission." Toto's 2005 covers album, Through The Looking Glass, was seen as somewhat of a letdown by critics who were hoping to see more of a reworking of the songs, rather than straightfoward renditions. But Toto's goal in making the album was just to have fun playing their favorites, and adding a little Toto flavor while they did it. Bobby Kimball, (now-former) lead singer, chose to pay tribute to Sir Elton John with this cover, and it's a great choice. All the power of Kimball's over-the-top vocals comes into play as he channels the desperate-turned-triumphant emotions of the song's protagonist, and this, combined with the rest of Toto's musical prowess, creates a whirlwind of a song that will definitely make you take anything the critics say with a grain of salt. Burn Down The Mission Video

3. Santana ft. Nas, "Back in Black." Believe me, I already know what you're thinking. "I'm sorry, what? Nas singing AC/DC?" 2010 saw Santana taking his trademark formula of teaming up with assorted lead singers on each album and applying it to classic rock covers, resulting in Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time. He brings in several modern names in rock and other genres to perform Santana-fied renditions of some of the best rock songs of decades past, and in teaming up with Nas...I'm not ashamed to say that I finally understand the words to this song after hearing Nas rap them. But more than that, the song is totally fitting for a rapper. It's all about how awesome the vocalist is, how he packs a punch and can't wait to show you how legendary he is. Whether it's Brian Johnson singing at the top of his lungs, or Nas bringing his cool swagger to it, the song becomes a serious headbanger in either version. Back in Black Video

4. Alex Clare, "When Doves Cry." Alex Clare is best known for the song "Too Close", made popular by those MSN commercials from a few years ago. His 2011 album The Lateness of the Hour attempts to fuse EDM soundscapes and pop songwriting. It doesn't always hit its mark, but one of the spots where it does is this cover. He takes Prince's synthpop seduction dance and turns it into an emotionally-charged dubstep-flavored ballad. Clare's story is an interesting one - according to legend, his first record deal fell through when he was unable to book dates on Saturdays because of his Orthodox Jewish practices. He later gained fame through the Microsoft commercials, while his vacant spot at the first record label was filled by a young woman named Adele. Funny how life works out. (The only available video is this one, where someone choreographed a hoop routine to the song: When Doves Cry Video)

5. Vanessa Carlton, "Paint It Black." I first heard this song at a dance concert, where someone choreographed an intense piece that was only enhanced by Carlton's raw vocals. The songstress behind every '90s-kid's favorite piano intro has a rock side, too, and in fact, it's later on that same album that brought us "A Thousand Miles" where she pays homage to the Rolling Stones. When the sitar drone brings you in, followed by the floor tom pedaling up to the first verse, you think, "okay, this could be good." Then the drums drop out and it's just Vanessa and the bass line spitting out the words through gritted teeth...and then that snare hit and Vanessa cuts loose with, "I see the girls walk by..." and once again, you can't help but headbang the whole way through. Paint It Black Video

I could go on and on about my favorite covers. But what are some of yours? Or do you disagree with my thoughts on these? Or are there better cover versions of these songs? Let me hear from you!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Musical Drumming vs. Accompaniment, or Why The Guitar Center Drum-Off Disappointed Me This Year

I've never really been considered "trendy." I eventually catch on to things, and I even embrace them, but I'm always a little late to the game. Which I'm okay with. I recently finally bought a black woolen peacoat, which has been a staple of men's fashion for years now. As you may have read a couple of posts ago, I recently learned what expressions like "put on blast" and "turn up" means (though I haven't started using them).
(Shameless self-plug: If you'd like to read my thoughts on some not-so-trendy but still recent music, click here.)
Trends are found in clothing, language, and virtually every aspect of modern life. Today I want to talk about a trend in music. Specifically, my aspect of music. Drumming. This line of thought was inspired by a recent Facebook post by a good friend and fellow drummer. Steve is a talented guy and I love watching him play. His performances with the UB Jazz Ensemble when we played there in undergrad were always a highlight of every concert, especially his solos. So when he posted about the Guitar Center Drum-Off competition, I took notice.
I am no great soloist. I perform drum solos with my band Mayday (as I did last weekend), but it's with the song Wipeout, usually near the end of the second set or beginning of the third. People are drunk and dancing and they want to keep doing that. So I play a dance-y solo, simplistic in nature, and featuring my favorite gimmick, leaving my drumset and drumming the whole way around whatever room I'm in. I should practice more and work my solo into a better drumming showcase, one that remains dance-y but shows off the intricacies of my playing and the capabilities of the instrument - because that could certainly be done. But I'm unable to make that time. Which I've grown to accept.

From my first years in high school jazz band, I've known that drum solos are often looked down upon by other musicians. I don't blame them. Most of the non-drummer musicians at my high school (including my band director) were used to high school level drummers who just wanted to play as fast and as loud as they could (which I still sometimes fight the urge to do). God knows Mr. L certainly dealt far more often with loud-and-fast drummers than with drummers who tried to be musical, even while showing off. So I never blamed them for thinking that way - I just used their aversion to spur my efforts to be better and convince them otherwise (an quest which has stalled in recent years due to things like medical school).

But there are people who work hard to make this an art. Steve has great musical playing. All of my favorite drummers take the time to make their drum solos (if they do those) sound musical as well as fun. And this is supposed to come to a head at the annual Guitar Center Drum-Off Competition. The trends of solo drumming present themselves boldly as the focus of the competition. The winner is crowned the best undiscovered drummer in the world. Here's this year's winner (the video's only 5 minutes):
Did you watch the whole thing? No? That's okay. It's a fun solo, but it's not my favorite. If you didn't watch it, it's pretty heavy on the Octapad. For non-drummers, that's the electronic console on the drummer's left, where he's concentrating 90% of his efforts. When I said heavy on the Octapad, I mean the amount of his solo that doesn't rely on electronics and a synthesized melody of some kind is about...30 seconds.

This is NOT a judgment on Shariq Tucker. Actually if you watch his solo from the 2013 competition, it's actually pretty awesome. It displays a lot of chops, even as it threads the fills together with musical drumming; it works in the Octapad purely as icing on the drumming cake. But that year, the winner was the talented D-Mile, who played way more Octapad than his competitors. It was still a decent drum solo, but relied much more heavily on the Octapad to constantly underlie the drumming. So this year, when Tucker came back to the competition, he knew what he had to do to win. Which is why the winning solo in the 2014 Drum-Off is almost completely carried by the Octapad - Tucker faces the Octapad almost more than he does the drumset.

Now, this isn't bad performance. In fact, it's impressive as far as the music and technique. It's a terrific display of balancing drumming and Octapad usage, complete with homage to Bell Biv Devoe's "Poison" as well as classic jazz. It's fun, and he displays a great deal of talent - it still takes major coordination to work in that melody as well as the drum beat. But if you take away the Octapad, the part on the actual drumkit is rather on the shallow side, seeming more like accompaniment than a solo. It's a far cry from the subtle but well-layered electronic additions he made the previous year (and, incidentally, if you watch last year's video...he's smiling a lot more back then).

YouTube comments should be no one's source of inspiration, but I misread one comment yesterday that gave me the notes on which to start this post. I won't tell you what it actually said, because it was just a sarcastic YouTube comment, but my misreading was, "Is drumming so boring that he needed [an Octapad] to keep people entertained?"

To which the answer is no. Or at least, it doesn't have to be. Drumming can absolutely be musical, even melodic. There are so many things a drummer can do to make a solo come alive, to get people dancing, or thinking, or rocking out. There have been Drum-Off competitions where that's been the case, but in my opinion, this solo is not representative of that.

Now I get that this is a big corporate-sponsored competition (subject to the same pressures as American Idol or any other musical competition), and so part of this is corporate politics. Roland (the company who makes Octapads) is a huge sponsor in this event and it's because of that that every Drum-Off set has an Octapad hook-up, and that it's become nearly a requirement to work it in (that's been happening since at least 2011, when JP Bouvet took the crown with a beautiful solo). But trigger pads have been an evolving trend since the 1980s when they first came out. From giant drum-shaped pads to little ones that fit in snugly in the spaces of a drumset, and every shape and form in between, trigger pads are awesome for working in those unconventional or cumbersome instrument (or non-instrument) sounds. But that has evolved naturally through the doesn't need to be shoehorned in by a corporate sponsor at a competition that is supposed to be about the art of drumming. About how this instrument can be just as musical as any horn or piano or strings.

And yet Roland's sponsorship (and the subsequent requirement of the Octapad in solos) kill that push to challenge the boundaries of the instrument itself, and instead relegate the actual drums almost to the role of accompaniment next to the electronics. There's nothing wrong with making music that way, and I would enjoy hearing some of that in a different performance or album context. But in a drum solo competition, it makes me feel like my instrument is not good enough on its own. Which I know is not true.

Maybe I'm just a dinosaur. But I feel that this competition should fuel a kind of creative excellence, not channel it and forcibly shape it. I know drum solos are capable of a great deal of musicality, without overusing electronics. This musicality can make drum solos accessible and enjoyable to drummers and non-drummers alike. Because in the end, that's what drumming is about - the enjoyment of the music. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

My Favorite Musical Finds of 2014

This post is quickly becoming less than timely. But I have two loves in my life - medicine and music. And this one's about music. 2014 spawned a lot of popular hits, many of which now grace my iPod. Ariana Grande maybe the first Top 40 artist in years who had an album that I listened to all the way through ("Problem" and "Love Me Harder" were in my head for weeks). My sister was, for a while, playing through an endless loop of Ed Sheeran's "Don't", Disclosure's "Latch" (or as I refer to it, the "Thah-Thah" song), and Hozier's "Take Me to Church." My fiancée will be incredibly pleased when the day comes that she can say the word "happy" and I don't immediately ask if she wants to CLAP ALOOONG IF [SHE] FEEEELLL[S] LIKE A ROOM WITHOUT A RO...sorry.

But there are a lot of great artists that won't be heard on the Top 40 stations, or if they are, not nearly as much as some of those artists. Some of these have been around for a long time, others are just coming into the light as artists. But here are my favorite musical discoveries of 2014, in no particular order:

1. Elizabeth Shepherd: The Signal. I tend to prefer instrumental jazz to vocal jazz, and it's rare that I buy the latter. However, sometime in October, Canada's Jazz.FM 91.1 newsletter highlighted Ms. Shepherd's new album and its unique sound. I went to iTunes and previewed 2 songs. I listened to about 10 seconds of each, and immediately bought the album. Fastest I've ever done so with a new (to me) artist. I know I said this list is not in any order, but this is definitely my favorite album of last year.
Shepherd stated in an interview once that she was reluctant to call this album "jazz" because jazz lyrics, at least classically, tend to take a backseat to the melody. Shepherd combines the freedom of jazz form and instrumentation with a deliberate and serious approach to lyrics, and the result is gorgeous. I could make a whole post about why I love this album, but suffice it to say I can't listen to it enough.

2. Richard Marx, Beautiful Goodbye. If you've read more than two or three of my entries here, you know I've been a lifelong fan of Richard Marx. With the exception of a Christmas album two years ago, it's been about six years since his last album of new material. When the first single for this album came out, it was clear that Marx was choosing to embrace the fact that he is loved by middle-aged women everywhere (the music video certainly plays to this strength). "Whatever We Started" depicts the feelings of two people who can't help but have an affair. That sets the tone for the rest of an album that oozes with sensuality, where Marx employs modern pop and EDM production to channel his cougar's-darling sex appeal. Except for final track "Moscow Calling" - I'm pretty sure that's just him having fun. While this kind of lyric material is not my usual cup of tea, Marx's voice and clever lyrics (ranging from subtle to not-at-all-subtle) continue to be great. And for one other highlight - in his recent trend of taking songs he wrote for other artists and re-introducing them in his own voice, he brings back a re-recording of "Suddenly", originally recorded by Toni Braxton. If you're looking for a good adult contemporary/soft rock album, look no further.

3. Meg Myers, Make A Shadow. My former roommate Eric and I share a fondness for great music (and a fondness for ranting against the music we don't find great). We occasionally disagree on what's great, but for the most part we tend to enjoy the same stuff. So when he told me to go and listen to this girl Meg Myers right away, I figured it would have to be pretty good. 19 seconds into the album, when the harsh guitar chords of "Desire" kicked in, I was immediately hooked. I have since described my reaction to that song as "I don't know if I'm turned on or terrified." This is Myers' second EP, and she ranges from Florence + The Machine-style art-pop choruses to femme fatale seduction to raw powerful screaming vocals that sends chills down your spine. Alternative rock has a new siren, and she packs a punch. Also, her Instagram is pretty funny.

4. Snarky Puppy, We Like It Here. Snarky. Freaking. Puppy. My old friend and fellow drummer Ryan sent me a video via Twitter, and the minute I heard "What About Me" - my jaw hit the floor. Described by my friend Mick as "Red Hot Chili Peppers meets Blood Sweat & Tears," this jazz collective is exceptional at marrying prog rock, fusion, jazz, and insanity all in a beautiful onslaught of sound and fury. The recording session, filmed and recorded live over 4 nights in the Netherlands, is as much a visual experience (the entirety is on YouTube) as it is aural - you gotta see the joy and the intensity these players display, and how much fun they're having. Drummers especially should watch as well as listen as Larnell Lewis (subbing in for usual drummer Sput Searight) melts everyone's faces off.

5. Lindsey Stirling, Shatter Me. Ms. Stirling's story is fairly well known now - auditioned for America's Got Talent, the judges told her a dancing violinist wasn't enough to fill stadiums, she took to YouTube posting violin/orchestral/dubstep covers and originals and became a sensation. Her first album was in heavy rotation on my Pandora study playlists, and I wondered if she would actually be able to do better with her sophomore effort. Well, she did and then some. She takes the EDM+violin concept and expands it, incorporating more diverse themes and motifs in her playing (channeling Westerns in "Roundtable Revival" and dripping with '90s-style hip-hop in "Swag"). She also makes it a much more personal album with the title track, in which guest vocalist Lzzy Hale* belts out Stirling-penned lyrics inspired by her history of dealing with an eating disorder. Stirling also enjoys transforming her songs into visual experiences, and her music videos continue to be awesome.
*Also, check out Lzzy Hale's guest appearance with Eric Church where she basically sings him off the stage during "That's Damn Rock n' Roll."

6. Eric Clapton, The Breeze (An Appreciation of JJ Cale). The world lost a great blues songwriter in 2013 when JJ Cale passed away. He wrote so many great songs, though most of the world (including me) knows his work due to other artists' covers of his tunes. The great Eric Clapton hit "Cocaine"? That's JJ Cale right there. Clapton and Cale were long-time collaborators, and so to commemorate his beloved friend, Clapton teamed up with John Mayer, Tom Petty, Doyle Bramhall II, and a host of other great blues/rock players to pay tribute. I admit I'm not familiar with a lot of Cale's work (beside what Clapton's done), but the songs on this album make me want to listen to more of it. There's more old school blues rock songwriting and sentiment here than you can shake a stick at, coupled with some terrific guitar work by Clapton, et al., yet it's accessible enough for today's listeners.
Also, if you want to hear some of Cale's collaborative work with Clapton, I highly recommend their duo album, The Road to Escondido, from 2006. One of my favorite albums for years.

In addition to these, you probably heard about a couple of my other favorite albums from last year, these two actually on the charts - Beck's Morning Phase (listen to it, and ignore the awards show "controversy" there - just enjoy the album), and the Foo Fighters' Sonic Highways (and its companion HBO documentary series by Dave Grohl). Both very much worth a listen.

There's already a lot of great music to look forward to in 2015. Florence + The Machine, Toto, jazz drumming legend Steve Gadd, and many others are already in the pre-order stage of their album releases, and there are many more to come. Here's to another year of great musical finds!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

But Seriously Though, How Great Was Saved By The Bell?

So if you've been on social media at all for the last week or so, you've probably seen this clip. And, of course, if you watched TV in the early 1990s (or reruns at 7 AM in the early 2000s), it was a nostalgic sucker punch. If there's one thing anyone over the age of 20 likes, it's a reunion of the characters of their favorite shows or movies or anything. And Saved By The Bell was definitely one of our favorites.
Before I go on, here's the clip. If you haven't watched it already, there will be spoilers below:
This clip is great. They got the makeup and outfits right, the musical vibe was there. On a related note, as my good friend and band mate Loren pointed out, apparently rolling up one's sleeves (in a non-proverbial sense) went out of style a long time ago and no one told us. It's okay, though - we're bringing it back. 

As usual, I digress. The inside jokes (for lack of a better phrase) in this clip are my favorite part. References to Tiffani Thiessen (who is still just as gorgeous today, even pregnant) and her post-SBTB run on "Beverly Hills, 90210," flashbacks to Mario Lopez's spandex-clad dance ability, and Elizabeth Berkley's brief stint as a fictional stripper in Showgirls. There was also a reference to Jessie Spano's most iconic moment in the show. She's made a couple of flashback references to the SBTB ladies' rendition of the Pointer Sisters' classic hit, "I'm So Excited." Her run on Dancing With the Stars (which I don't watch, but again, social media brought it to my attention) was remarkable for a flippant nod to that moment leading into one of her dances with her partner, Valentin Chmerkovskiy. Everyone laughs at the reference, as they should, the same way they did when she did it in the Jimmy Fallon sketch. I laughed at it, too, but it was uneasy laughter.

Saved By The Bell, like most high school-set sitcoms, was known for its occasional "special episodes" where a more serious issue would be raised in the course of the show. One of those is the episode where Jessie gets addicted to caffeine pills while trying to balance forming a musical girl group with Kelly and Lisa (whose lead single is a cover of The Pointer Sisters song) and maintaining her grades to get into Stanford University, which culminates in her realizing her addiction ("I'm so excited! I'm so excited! I'm so...scared!") and collapsing in Zack Morris's arms.

15 years down the road, I fully acknowledge that this is a pretty laughable portrayal, but for me, as a fairly naive 11-year-old kid watching Saved By The Bell reruns, Jessie's breakdown was kind of a scary moment in the show. Everyone at that age knows not to do drugs, but that was the first time I'd been shown the emotional toll of drug addiction (you know, in a still-innocent high school way). At age 11, I had known for 6 years already that I wanted to be a doctor (yeah, I was that kid), and so I viewed this with the same desire to help that I intended to apply to all of my future patients.

I've seen other fictional characters get into much worse situations because of their addictions, ranging from Mason in Dead Like Me feeling sick when a bag of cocaine bursts in his rectum, to Dr. House's visual hallucinations and complete lack of control when the Vicodin becomes too much, to every character in Requiem for a Dream when they succumb to the effects of their drugs of choice.

I have met real people (mostly patients) addicted to drugs (far worse than mere caffeine pills) and I know people who use caffeine pills and other supplements on a regular but non-addicted basis. Heck, I get headaches when I don't drink at least one cup of coffee per day. But I still remember how I felt when I saw Jessie crying, because I was picturing how Zack must have felt when he encountered her. I didn't have the benefit of knowledge and experience to help me deflect the emotions there. And it still gives me a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I'm not saying it's wrong to laugh at these humorous references - like I said, I laughed myself. I'm sure Elizabeth Berkley shakes her head at herself when she thinks about it. But there's that moment of hesitation there when I remember that poignant moment, that's stuck with me through the years.
And then I wonder if I'm taking myself and a 1990s sitcom too seriously. In fact, I'm certain I am. Even back then, the very next scene is of Kelly and Lisa performing a live version of the song, with Screech hilariously filling in for Jessie (Season 3 episode 9 if you want to watch it on Netflix). And all is well again.

But I think of it this way: While I am busy memorizing all of the signs of addiction to various drugs, as well as their withdrawal symptoms, it's easy to forget that there are real patients behind those test questions. And until I get into the real world of treating patients as a doctor (which will hopefully be pretty soon, as I graduate in May), I can always use a reminder of that human component. In this case, that's where Jessie Spano comes in. So I will always be thankful to SBTB for that.

And, on a less serious note, for moments like this. Very few shows can pull off a rapping portrayal of Snow White.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Things I Just Don't Get, or #OldManRant

Happy New Year! Now, on to the blog post:
There are a few things in this world that I don't understand. Actually, there are a lot of things. But a few of those things are funny. I understand some of these things on an intellectual level...kind of. But every time I encounter these situations, I'm left scratching my head. Allow me to point out that I do not judge anyone that does these things...I just don't fully get them. And I'm about to make fun of them a little bit. People who display these have acknowledged that they are funny, so hopefully they won't mind.

1. The horrified reactions to words like "moist." I have a few friends that have this particular hang-up. It's not just moist. There's a whole bunch of these words that, when spoken, people lose their minds. Other words include, "pustule" (understandable, that's a pretty gross thing objectively), "squirt" "phlegm." I have one friend who can't stand the word "slough." And of course, one of the organs that my intended field of medicine, gynecology, focuses on...has a name that cannot be mentioned in front of many people without evoking an appalled reaction and dry-heaving. And no, I'm not talking about ovaries.

2. Unofficially assigned seats. I mean, when I repeatedly attend a lecture hall, I tend to drift toward the same seating area. It's comfortable, you get used to viewing the lecturer and the screen from the same angle day after day and/or week after week. But there are definitely people who will stare daggers at you and ponder your death if you sit in their seat of choice. And they know it's a little unreasonable, but that doesn't stop them from wondering if their hands would fit around your neck.

3. (Relation)shipping. This goes all the way back to shows like Moonlighting...maybe even older shows, but I haven't done enough research to fully support that claim. There's probably a Buzzfeed article about this somewhere. Anyway, apparently people couldn't wait until Bruce and Cybill got together in that show - but that made sense because they had great chemistry and sexual tension. Castle and Beckett managed to play it out for a long time before finally giving the fans what they wanted. But some people think Sheldon and Penny from The Big Bang Theory would be good together. And that Jack Donaghy should get with Liz Lemon. Really? That makes sense to people?
And there's one comedian who talks about reading fanfiction about Bellatrix and Hermione. Now, I know why she looked that up (and it's not exactly a family-friendly reason), but that one's just funny.

4. Turning down and/or up. Lil' Jon's "Turn Down For What?" kind of made sense to me. At least it did when I saw the hilarious and magical cinematic masterpiece that is the music video. So it made sense that to "turn up" would be the opposite. But then people started talking about how we have to "turn up at this place" and "soft turn up for this thing!" It's like when you hear a word too much and it starts to sound like it's not real anymore. Does it mean "turn up" as in randomly show up? Or turn up the volume? Or are you just being an underground root vegetable?
And then I got nervous about turn down. Is it another word for what you do with blood in a centrifuge? Or turning down the volume? Or is it what you do with bedsheets before you go to sleep?

And how is one "turnt"?

5. Bae. The acronym for "Before Anyone Else" and know what? This one I might be judging a little bit. Yeah, I'm just gonna put it down and walk away.

What are your thoughts on these things? What are some funny things that you just don't get? And seriously, can someone explain the word "turnt"?